Magazine article The Spectator

'There Are No Barriers'

Magazine article The Spectator

'There Are No Barriers'

Article excerpt

There are many who might consider it an absolute crime that someone who would look so entirely delectable in a dirndl is instead about to hit the stage of the London Palladium draped from head to toe in a habit and wimple. Lesley Garrett, however, is so thrilled that she can barely contain herself. Other small girls growing up -- as millions of us did -- with the film of The Sound of Music spooling like an ever-present backing track to our lives might have felt a particular affinity with the rebellious Maria, the confused teenage Liesl or even the obnoxiously winsome Gretl. Not Lesley. Was she surprised to be asked to take on the role of the Mother Abbess? 'I wasn't asked -- I volunteered. I've always wanted to do a West End show, and ever since I first saw the film this is the role I've wanted to do.

Maria's a bit obvious in a sense. For me, the song is "Climb Every Mountain". And in the stage version I get to sing it twice.' She flings back her head and lets rip with the Garrett laugh, an unrenderablein-print, witchily gleeful cackle. Isn't the Mother Abbess generally seen as a wise elderly presence with a big fruity contralto voice? 'Well, in the film she's a Grandmother Abbess in a way, but in this stage production she's definitely more of a mother. And that's completely perfect for me at this stage of my life because I've got two teenage children myself, of an age with the von Trapp children.

When I found out that Andrew Lloyd Webber was determined to find a really young Maria, I knew that this was my moment.' The stage version of The Sound of the Music differs from the film in a number of respects. Rather than comforting the young von Trapps during a thunderstorm by singing to them about schnitzel with noodles and whiskers on kittens, Maria is encouraged by the Mother Abbess to think of her 'Favourite Things'. 'It's a marvellous scene, and the dialogue is much more developed than in the film. It's a mother doing the thing that mothers do, like when you take your child to the doctor to have an injection and you make sure you've got a box of Smarties with you.

She's saying, "Do you remember all those things you loved before you joined the convent? Well, take comfort from that because you've got to leave us, it's God's will." You realise that she has an extraordinary empathy with Maria and also that she's had a life of her own. There's a wonderful moment later on when she talks to Maria about being in love and it's quite clear that she's been there and done that.' It is apparent that a similar empathy exists between Lesley and her co-star Connie Fisher, winner of the BBC's terrifying trial-by-television How Do you Solve a Problem Like Maria show. 'I have to say that Connie is brilliant. She shines. It's wonderful casting and I never thought I'd hear myself say that. When I heard about the way they were going to cast the role I just wondered, as everyone must have done, who on earth is going to come out of this? Will she have the stamina, the wherewithal to deal with it? And I can tell you, she really has.

'What I love about the work that I do is the juxtapositions. It's fantastic that when we record the cast album of The Sound of Music I'll also be singing Despina for a new recording of Così fan tutte with Charles Mackerras. When I hear Così I want to hear three completely distinctive soprano sounds for Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Despina; it's the same with the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Female voices with a very similar tessitura or range but entirely different colour. And that's what we've got here, but interestingly it's because of the different training. …

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